It
probably wasn’t the best of days for James Packer, the heir, to be seen
entertaining John Hartigan, chairman of News Ltd, and
the former News Corp executive, Lachlan Murdoch, at Sydney’s
Icebergs noshery at Bondi. News of
the lunch came in the SMHCBD column.

Why,
the lunch could have left the unfortunate impression that the private shareholders in Foxtel, or
the owners of Premier Media group (Fox Sports) were having a high powered
exchange of views.

And why
would that have been important? Here’s an intriguing report from the C7 hearing yesterday from today’s Smage: “Earlier, Telstra’s
media services chief, Bruce Akhurst, said he had not
“picked up” a statement in a January 1999 briefing paper that News and PBL saw
C7 as a competitor to Fox Sports and “neither PBL nor News will accept Foxtel using C7 programming.” Oops!

Now in
view of that and other things suggested at the C7 hearing, especially
yesterday, in Akhurst’s testimony, the lunch between
JP, JH and LM should have been a little more discreet.

Certainly from media reports, former Telstra CEO Ziggy Switkoswki and Bruce Akhurst had an uncomfortable moment or two yesterday as
they were questioned by the Seven Network counsel and by Justice
Sackville.

Readers
should remember that Mr Akhurst has emerged with a key, but unwittingly pivotal
role in the whole case. It was a hand written fax to him from News’s legal chief,
Ian Philip, that blew the whole case open last
December.

That
fax, which Mr Akhurst was
supposed to destroy but didn’t, bolstered the expensive case Seven has been
running against News, PBL, Foxtel, Telstra and other
defendants, by revealing evidence of collusion on the bidding for the 2001 AFL
rights.

Meanwhile I wonder if Mr Hartigan and Mr Murdoch made
mention of the decision by PBL not to put up witnesses in the C7 case (for example, former CEO Nick Falloon would not have
to appear). News is
not happy with PBL for that decision because it meant News executives were the
only ones questioned from the private side of Foxtel.

Peter Fray

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